Mission in, to, and from the Pacific Islands is arguably at its most exciting stage since the early dispersion of the gospel there over 200 years ago. Back then the gospel was spread largely by the commitment of enthusiastic Island believers, not just to their own people, but to neighbouring nations, where there was often rejection and hostility towards those bringing the good news. Christians in Fiji in particular were so committed to telling the good news of Jesus, that the British colonial government actually put a moratorium on Fijian missionaries going overseas. One of the reasons for this decision was the frequency of missionary deaths in target countries. These early missionaries were fearless and full of faith. But wonderfully, today, a new generation of Christians is walking beyond where even the most ardent of early believers would have dared to dream. The Pasifika Church of today is an exciting body in which to have a part.
WEC Pasifika has a key role in this new move of God. It was 30 years ago that WEC established a team in Fiji. Initially the goal was to see churches planted amongst unreached Hindus and Muslims. Reaching the Chinese in the Pasifika area was later added. Today, WEC Pasifika’s vision is still to see the least-reached peoples of the Pacific come to Christ, but to also see the churches of the Pacific reach out to the world with the gospel.
How is this happening?
The Pacific Church is well established amongst the indigenous peoples of the Islands. However, as in the rest of the globe, immigration is leading to new opportunities. Training by WEC leaders has equipped and encouraged local congregations, especially in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, to embrace their new neighbours with love and the hope of Jesus. This has given birth to a number of initiatives to reach out to Chinese, Muslim and Hindu peoples. Many congregations are now seeing effective witness take place in their communities among those who do not yet know Jesus.
WEC also has workers from overseas supporting this work. Dorothy is one such. Her roots in Hong Kong, and fluency in Mandarin, has allowed her to partner with established Chinese congregations in new initiatives to reach Chinese migrants. The new wave of arrivals are often business people, for whom different strategies are needed to connect them with Jesus. Some of the older Chinese churches have been without adequate leadership for some time. So there are strategic opportunities for cross-cultural Chinese speakers to be part of Chinese ministry in a number of Island nations.
This ministry can have amazing long-term results. Recently a WEC leader met a Chinese man who had worked in Fiji 20 years ago. There, through WEC ministry, he became of follower of Jesus. Today he is back in China and is leading a house church network that has a strong missional vision and is committed to sending out its own workers.
Another team in Fiji is dedicated to working with churches to reach into Muslim neighbourhoods. This multinational team is focused in a few villages and is experiencing the joy of seeing new believers coming to faith.
In all of the above there are numerous opportunities to join WEC teams in serving local congregations to help reach the least-reached in their communities.
A key component of mission today is mobilising local churches. Here again WEC personnel are drawing on their experience to raise up workers for those nations yet to be impacted by the gospel. An initiative in Vanuatu has seen a number of associate workers trained as mobilisers ‘on the ground’ to keep mission before churches. This lead to the first-ever Vanuatu mission conference in 2017, at which over 100 delegates were enthused in grasping their role in God’s worldwide mission. All of this came from the invitation, and with the support and blessing, of the NiVan Church. What started primarily in the Presbyterian Church is now spreading to other denominations. Interestingly, Vanuatu derives from “vanua” (island or land) and “tu” (to stand or rise up). We repeatedly heard, “Now is the time for Vanuatu to rise up and take its place in world mission.”
A growing number of (particularly) Fijian and NiVan workers are being trained and sent to places such as South Asia, Chad, East Timor and Central Asia. Sent and supported by Pasifika churches, they are becoming valuable members of WEC teams around the globe.
A global perspective is having local implications. For example, financing overseas workers is challenging for many Pasifika churches. However, clusters of churches in Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are co-operating to finance their mission workers. This unity positively motivates their involvement in local mission as well.
Are there challenges? The pathway to mission has never been straightforward and Pasifika mission workers are not exempt. They face the same temptations that keep Australians from following through on their mission call. And there are unique challenges. The value of local currencies means Pacific workers do not have the same freedoms other workers do. Also, given the prestigious position pastors hold, it is hard to explain why a mission worker (often not ordained) may need to receive a higher ‘wage’ than the pastor. Sadly, denominationalism prevents greater unity in the sending and supporting of workers, and also affects local outreach, just as it does here.
However, God is way bigger than all of this. He can and is overcoming these hurdles and the Pasifika Church is taking its rightful place in the service of our King. Keep praying for the Pasifika Church. Being relational people they love being joined in what God is doing in their midst. There is still a role for Australians in the Islands, just as there is a role for Islanders in other nations: mission from anywhere to everywhere. Love it!